The Haunting of L., Howard Norman's exploration of depravity and the influence of remorse, overcomes an underdeveloped plot with a consistently eerie sense of suspense. Following the tragic death of his mother, Peter Duvett leaves his Halifax home and travels to Churchill, Manitoba, where he has accepted a job as an assistant to a photographer he has never met. The photographer, Vienna Linn, works for a local Jesuit, for whom he takes pictures of recently baptized townspeople. Duvett soon meets Linn's "exquisite" new bride, Kala Murie, a devoted student of spirit photography, a phenomenon in which the images of the deceased appear in photographs alongside family and friends. Things turn especially bizarre when Murie fills Duvett in on the truth about her husband before seducing him on her wedding night: Linn is working for a deranged English spiritualist, Radin Heur, who pays him to arrange and photograph train wrecks. As his affair with Murie intensifies, Duvett chooses to remain with the pair, a witness to Linn's murderous attempts to appease Heur and the consuming guilt that follows.
Duvett states that a good book, in his opinion, makes him "feel some nervousness, excitement, agitation, even fear about what happened next." By this standard, The Haunting of L. is indeed a worthwhile novel; a classically styled mystery and the sort of strange-but-true tale Duvett favors. Norman (author of The Bird Artist) captures stark snapshots of setting and character, eliciting anticipation by focusing on the essentials and leaving detail in the shadows. The Haunting of L. ends up as an effective ghost story, creating alluring tension in its obscurity, making for an intriguing, if underexposed, portrait. --Ross Doll [via]